Last spring I bought a pair of skis. I claim that when I made the purchase I was ripped out of my mind from too many shots of Tequila, but the truth is I was as sober as a nun.
I lie about the purchase because I’m a die-hard snowboarder, and not one who grew up skiing and changed over when snowboarding became the underground sport for Kurt Cobain-loving, rebellion-inspired mavericks. I didn’t come from a well-off family so I learned to snowboard in my twenties, with money I scammed while working at Chapters and going to university.
Needless to say, I’m passionate about snowboarding. To me, it represents the ideal freedom of the hills and the unity between human and machine. When you’re locked into your board, it’s just you and Mother Nature out there. It’s almost religious and arguably better (or certainly longer-lasting) than sex.
So why the hell would I give that up without the influence of too much Tequila?
I’m sick of being last.
Let me rephrase. I’m so frustrated with my seven-minute changeover and having everyone poach the best lines down while I bang the ice off the edges of my splittie skis so I can spend a further five minutes chipping snow from my bindings that last spring I threw the most wicked temper tantrum in the middle of the backcountry and yelled the sacrilegious phrase: “I never want to tour AGAIN!”
Whoa. Time to reel it in. I was going to give up touring? And go back to standing in the Peak Chair line for forty-five minutes just so I could frantically blast down Peak to Creek, all the time worrying that someone else was going to beat me to the fresh pow?
But I was really, really sick of being last.
So when I was in Vail, I wandered into a ski shop and there, under the light of the falling sun, and surrounded by five guys who all had switched from snowboarding to skiing because of the backcountry convenience, I bought my first pair of skis.
And a few weeks ago, I popped my skiing cherry in – where else? – the backcountry. Ok, some people might argue that gentle Paul Ridge with its slopes of 15 degrees isn’t the backcountry, but there’s no chair lift so in my world it counts.
At any rate, the second I put on those plastic astronaut boots and locked my toes into my skis I realized a few things. First, I was lighter on my feet. I almost felt like a deer bounding up the hill. I couldn’t believe how much lighter the weight was under my legs. I wasn’t even on proper backcountry skis (Rossi S3s), yet I might as well have been for all the weight difference I felt. Second, the glide of my skis and skins was effortless. Can I say magical? I didn’t have to adjust my walking stance to make it wider for my splittie skis, and my skis didn’t awkwardly clack together. They just slid forward, one in front of the other, without any issues. Third, my pacing was better, not because I felt like a deer and had less weight underfoot, but because the pivot point of the Dynafit binding was so fluid I wasn’t leaning forward as much as I did with my Sparks bindings and splittie skis. I didn’t even complain when breaking trail and I typically despise breaking trail; even if a skier goes ahead I always end up making fresh tracks since my splittie skis are wider than anyone else’s fattest skis.
So the ascent was magical. Then the real show began. I’m not one to do things half way so I decided that if I was going to be a hardcore skier I should remove my skins without taking off my skis. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Ok, so a little respect is given to skiers.
Then came the actual skiing. I pointed my skis downward, hoping for a good turn…
But didn’t quite make it. However, I did manage to turn once I picked myself up again. The breakable crust didn’t help much, but I’m sure that not having any skills didn’t help either.
After a few laps the weather began to close in and my legs were trembling so much I felt like a newborn deer. I managed to guide my skis to the skin track that now looked like a heinous luge track, and I began the arduous task of keeping my body upright and my skis uncrossed. On my snowboard I can manage the 5km descent from the Red Heather hut in about 5 minutes. This time I took over twenty minutes, having to periodically stop and give my vibrating quads a rest every two minutes. Snowplowing proved to be the most muscle-straining activity so to slow down I relied on my old ice skating skills and tried to implement a hockey stop. I’m proud to report that I didn’t fall on the descent once, although I narrowly clipped a snowshoer as I was coming around a bend.
I suppose the real question at the end of the day is am I a convert? Will I give up the comfort and blissful descent on my snowboard and embrace the knee-wiggling life of a two-planker?
Stay tuned. A traverse is in my future and the mode of travel I choose to employ will be the real tell… though I am accepting votes.